Ugly Art Room is a lovely little contradiction. They don’t have an art room, and the art they’ve got is certainly not ugly. They’re a group of four—Jen, Scott, Julie, and Martin—that make up a roving curatorial art project, putting on site-specific shows in nontraditional venues, including the Parlour Brooklyn hair salon, Brouwerji Lanes, The Gutter, Dandelion Wine, and Paulie Gee’s pizzaria, among others. Their aim is to explore the relationship between the artwork presented and the venue in which it’s displayed.
Ugly Art Room has their headquarters in the Terminal Building in industrial Greenpoint, along with the Fowler Arts Collective. They’re incredibly busy, having put on eleven shows and featured over a hundred Brooklyn artists in the year they’ve been active. In addition, Jen runs the popular neighborhood blog Greenpointers, and Scott is the director of the Distillery Gallery in Boston. For the incredible Bring to Light New York festival, Ugly Art Room contributed “Peep Show,” essentially a walk-up set of View-Masters, where several photographic works were displayed stereoscopically. Next up they have a collage show called “All That Remains” opening at Picture Farm on October 21st and running through November 19th. Definitely check it out! But first check out my interview with Jen and Scott.
Scott: We actually want to start by saying that we’re really excited to be on Brooklyn Spaces, because we pride ourselves on the fact that Ugly Art Room doesn’t have a space. We only put on shows in venues that aren’t typically art-designated. I think showing art in alternative venues is absolutely a legitimate way of exhibiting these days. We’re able to expose so many more people to art.
brooklyn spaces: Okay, so tell me about doing “Peep Show” at Bring to Light. What was that experience like?
Jen: It was unbelievably great. The light show is a big outward display, so I wanted to bring it inward and make our piece a more intimate experience. I’m a photographer myself, which means I’m a very harsh judge of photography, so I like that we presented it in a really unique but also weirdly traditional old-school way.
brooklyn spaces: How was the audience response?
Scott: It was awesome. There was always a crowd of people waiting to see what it was. Curiosity for us is key. People couldn’t just see something projected on the side of a building and then keep on walking. They had to want to see what everyone else was seeing.
Jen: That was another idea behind it, that the viewer would become part of the show, because while you’re viewing, you’re being viewed. That’s what we were doing too, standing off to the side watching, listening to people’s reactions. We got such a kick out of it.
brooklyn spaces: Tell me about some other shows you guys have done.
Jen: We did one called “Opening Rejection,” which was a 6 x 6 x 6 white cube with all the art bolted to the walls inside. Scott built that, It was its own piece of artwork with artwork inside. He’s basically a wizard; he built “Peep Show” too.
Scott: “Opening Rejection” was cool because we got to put it on in two different places. First it was part of Northside Open Studios. They closed Bedford Ave for Williamsburg Walks, and we put the cube on the street and watched hundreds of people walk by, kind of wonder “What’s going on here?” and then go in and figure it out. That was super. And then we put it on Governor’s Island for the 4Heads Fair, which was a blast. Another cool show was “B Is for Bear,” which we put on in a daycare center as party of Bushwick Beta Spaces. That was another event we were so lucky to be a part of, because it was so well put together and so well attended.
Jen: Another show we did was “Landing Jam,” which Martin curated. It was in Greenpoint, in the skylit hallway of a third-floor walk-up, and all the work was abstract painting. It was art I didn’t initially relate to, but the way he put the show together and the feeling of it inside the space was terrific. I think it was one of the best examples of what Ugly Art Room does.
Scott: There’s a new show that Martin is working on, it’s a two-person show, with one painting from each person, and we’re going to reuse the 6 x 6 x 6 cube, but it’s going to be in a boxing ring, so you’ll actually climb up into the ring, into the mini-gallery, to view these two paintings facing each other. He describes the work as very ego, very self-involved.
brooklyn spaces: What are your thoughts on being artists and curators in Greenpoint?
Jen: We love Greenpoint! Ugly Art Room started during Greenpoint Open Studios. The sense of community and the support for the arts here, not only among artists and art enthusiasts but also among local businesses, is phenomenal. Fowler had a big opening and where twenty local businesses donated hundreds of dollars worth of gift certificates and merchandise for raffle.
brooklyn spaces: Are you inspired by living in Brooklyn?
Jen: Oh yeah, Brooklyn’s awesome. It’s always been a place that has identified itself outside of Manhattan. It has its own identity and its own grit and feel.
Scott: There’s so much talent here, the bar is set so high. You really have to give it so much more than your all in order to pull it off here, and that’s great. People respect it, people acknowledge it, people come out and support it. When you do put out the effort, it’s recognized, it’s not just lost in the shuffle.
Jen: It’s also a place where you can build your own community, your own scene. Ugly Art Room is building a community of art appreciators who look for art outside of traditional galleries, and I think Brooklyn is the perfect place to do that. A lot of people are here because they’re not into the art scene in Chelsea and they want to do something different.
brooklyn spaces: What are your goals for the future?
Jen: We want Ugly Art Room to continue to put shows in unique locations and be able to sustain itself doing that. I want to continue to show Brooklyn artists, but at the same time, I think it would be cool for Ugly Art Room to expand. New York’s awesome, Brooklyn’s awesome, but there’s an entire world of weird places out there.